News & Politics

When the Cop Is the Criminal: Preying on Drug Addicts

Patrick J. Sullivan's experience as a cop is making him an exception when it should make him an example. The former "Sheriff of the Year" has a very shady past.

 Patrick J. Sullivan, 68, was the sheriff of Arapahoe County, Colo., near Denver, for nearly 20 years before he retired in 2002. Sullivan was considered such an exemplary police officer that, in 2001, the National Sheriff's Association named him Sheriff of the Year. In a hugely ironic twist, last week Sullivan became an inmate at The Patrick J. Sullivan Jr. Detention Facility, and yes, the jail was named in his honor. 

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After several informants tipped off police that Sullivan was involved in drug trafficking, investigators watched as Sullivan agreed to meet a male informant and swap him methamphetamines for sex. That's when the cuffs came on. He was charged with felony distribution and possession of meth, in addition to a misdemeanor charge of soliciting prostitution.

Sullivan was released Tuesday after a judge reduced his bail from $500,000 to $50,000 for past service to the public, including his heroic rescue of two deputies. But the details of his arrest, as well as another shady incident involving an unsolved drowning, raise questions about the impunity with which law enforcement acts in the drug war.

It's also yet another example of people in authority — such as the football coaches at Penn State in the Sandusky molestation scandal, and the basketball coach and chief of police in Syracuse — using their positions of power to prey on vulnerable people, and then having the system give them protection when ordinary civilians would have the book thrown at them. Sullivan, too, used his position of power for sexual exploitation, and during pretrial proceedings, his authority worked in his favor. 

Sullivan's attorney, Kevin McGreevy, argued against the $500,000 bail requested by prosecutors, saying, "Given the amount of good he's done, not just for Colorado but for Arapahoe County ... (I ask) that his bond be reduced to $50,000." The judge agreed, slapped a gag order on the case, and Sullivan posted bail and walked.

But the fact that Sullivan was a police officer is exactly the "public service" that should make him an example, not an exception. Having been a decorated cop does not mean that you deserve special treatment, just like having been a good parent or an otherwise upstanding person does not commute sentences for drug offenses. A crusader to keep drugs away from kids, Sullivan locked up people for crimes he evidently was not above himself.

Perhaps more importantly, Sullivan used his experience as a police officer to prey on the weak — and, as he was later charged, to influence a public official. Sullivan allegedly hung out at a home for recovering meth addicts, where he traded meth for sex with young men. Beyond prostitution, the activity raises questions of consent. A drug warrior who worked to keep drugs away from kids, Sullivan should know the plight that addicts face, as well as the great lengths they may go to to score drugs fueling their addictions.

Dillon Grilley, 25, called the cops on Sullivan in September because the "old guy" refused to leave his home. Grilley told CALL7 that Sullivan visited his two roommates as much as two to three times daily, and the three would disappear into a bedroom together. Having seen his roommates smoke methamphetamine, Grilley feared Sullivan had coerced his roommates back into drugs. As he called the cops, Sullivan reportedly shoved a badge in his face and said he was the police. He was gone by the time police arrived, but police report that he was stripped of his badge following the incident. 

And still, it may get even worse for Sullivan. Current Araphoe County Sheriff Grayson Robinson said last week that police contacted him to inquire about interviewing Sullivan. They were investigating the Jan. 26 unsolved drowning of 27-year-old Sean Moss, a former gay porn actor, and the autopsy for whom showed intoxication from meth and gamma-hydroxybutryic acid, or GHB, best known as a date rape drug. Less than two weeks before Moss's death, Sullivan reportedly posted bail for Moss's arrest in a domestic violence case involving another man in a Denver suburb. Police spokesman Sonny Jackson said Morris's case remained open because the coroner could not determine the cause of death. Was it an accident, suicide, or homicide?

The Moss–Sullivan relationship goes deeper than Sullivan's bail money. As far back as 2007, when Sullivan was director of safety and security at Cherry Creek school district, the district hired Moss for security at Overland High School. Moss listed Sullivan as a reference, but he resigned over "personal reasons" just 13 days later. 

Denver police have not disclosed whether they questioned Sullivan or what information they sought in relation to the drowning. Sullivan's involvement with Moss is based on speculation at this point, but the silence of the police who reached out to Robinson is troubling. So, too, is the gag order the judge placed on the case. According to court documents, the gag order was issued to protect Sullivan's right to a fair trial in response to "the intense interest of the media" and "the amount of publicity which has resulted."

Examples of double standards and hypocrisy occur throughout the criminal justice system when people with power are arrested for crimes. If Sullivan's contributions to the community were considered when he was caught attempting to exchange meth for sex, then why was the work of Joe Miller, a probation officer in Arizona, not considered when he was fired for simply adding his name to a LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition) petition to decriminalize marijuana in California?  As the New York Times recently reported, cops do not rise up through the ranks by speaking out against drug laws but executing them. If you raise a question about policy, it can be the end of your career.

A multijurisdictional task force is examining Sullivan’s past and his potential involvement in other criminal cases. Several investigators on the case will work in the Cherry Creek school district, where they will attempt to contact students with whom Sullivan may have been in touch to determine if there are other victims.

Kristen Gwynne covers drugs at AlterNet. She graduated from New York University with a degree in journalism and psychology. She is the youngest person on AlterNet's staff.